How Professional Nurses can Evolve Alongside Health Care Technology
In the fight against illness and injury, nurses are the first line of defense. It makes sense then that technological advancements in preventative care and breakthroughs in health care administration like informatics are implemented, tested, and improved upon by nurses.
This, unfortunately, is not guaranteed. Any industry that lacks awareness and self-critique, health care included, can fall behind the curve in this digital revolution sweeping the globe. Advocacy on behalf of nurses, however, prevents that trailing behind. How can professional nurses, the unofficial technology advocates of the health care sector, continue to grow and develop their roles as caregivers in the 21st century?
Stay savvy to the winds of change
Nurses, by their very nature, deal with the problems directly in front of them. Although a tight focus on the matters at hand improves the quality of the care for whomever a nurse administers to in that moment, the same discipline does not necessarily translate to understanding technology and its greater role in health care.
Take electronic health records (EHR), for example. According to national averages from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three-quarters of office-based physicians – and presumably their nursing staffs – used EHR systems as of 2014. Nurses should learn to utilize EHRs capably and responsibly on site and strive to understand and participate in the greater discussion about EHR use. Let’s take one topic as an example: EHR data ownership.
- Who really owns patient data when it enters an EHR? The patient? The provider? The IT team?
- Does it matter if health care administrators relied on automated mobile devices or manual entry to capture the information?
- What are the pros and cons of 100 percent data ownership given to health providers?
To evolve with medicine as it undergoes this period of great technological disruption, nurses cannot ignore the zeitgeist or the ethical dilemmas that technology may raise. If for no other reason, patients rely on input from nurses to shape and direct the conversation in a way that promotes true wellness.
Reclaim time to connect with (and protect) patients
On average, nurse practitioners see 17 patients daily, according to a survey conducted by Staff Care’s Advanced Practice Division on behalf of the American Nurse Practitioner Foundation. One-third of the respondents see more than 20 on any given day. Although these numbers are an undoubted testament to the work ethic and organization of today’s nursing workforce, they are also a result of time-saving innovations in telemedicine and mobile technology.
With less administrative work to perform, nurses can spend more one-on-one time with the families they care for on a regular basis. And with so many resources available with which to collaborate with other care providers and communicate with patients – mobile health monitoring apps, patient portals, biometric sensors, to name a few – nurses have the capacity to learn more about the people they treat and forge deeper connections than ever before. For decades, nursing has evolved away from a support role for physicians to a more autonomous, knowledge-driven position. Technology propels that progression forward at the speed of light.
Yet as with all things, we’re bound to miss something when we move too fast. Data breaches and cyberattacks have rocked the health care industry as of late, compounded by a lack of organization on the part of care providers everywhere. According to a 2016 survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute, 90 percent of respondent health care organizations were breached in the previous two years. Forty-five percent were compromised more than five times in that same period. The survey found most of the incidents were “small,” affecting fewer than 500 patient files. In total, health care takes a $6.2 billion hit every year it fails to aggressively address its vulnerabilities.
Imagine what an industry of healing could accomplish with a few extra billion dollars at its disposal.
So it’s no surprise these health care organizations cite “employee negligence” in data security as a top concern. After all, it should be the easiest problem to fix, right? A hospital can regulate how nurses and administrators use in-house technology far better than it can influence outside forces like hackers. It can act against unauthorized disclosure of or access to EHRs. It can propose intelligent disposal methods for technology that contains sensitive information.
But staff, especially nurses, must meet employers halfway by following tech compliance to the letter, asking questions, learning the consequences of lackluster operations, drilling best practices, creating emergency response plans, and, to a large degree, self-governing on execution. The future of tomorrow’s health care hangs in the balance.
Cede control to get it back tenfold
A clarion call for innovation might spur younger nurses into action, but may fall on deaf ears when heard by those who’ve been in the industry for some time. No doubt they have heard this song and dance before. Many may remember similar situations of the past that led to more time spent clicking and troubleshooting in front of a screen and less time interacting with patients.
Worse still, medical error rates increased, in part, because of this split attention. In one of many reports on the subject, research from the Kaiser Family Foundation in 2004 found 1 medical error out of 5 led to permanent, long-term consequences to a patient’s health, sometimes death.
Skepticism is healthy and warranted, but the data-driven machines of today are much different in their approaches to work than their ancient ancestors (“ancient” meaning 10 or 15 years ago). These days, as mentioned earlier, innovators and engineers place a greater emphasis on efficiency through automation. How can we give users exactly want they want in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort on their behalf?
Nursing will struggle to evolve as an industry and draw young professionals into the fold without attention paid to how technology can decrease labor intensity. As projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate, the U.S. will require 1 million more nurses in 2022 than it needed in 2012. When encountering new technology in the workplace, nurses should always honestly ask themselves: Does this help me do my job in such a way that allows me to help more people? If the answer is yes, be open to change.
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